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Product Lab - May 2005

Published: April 14, 2005
XTM Racing XLB
XTM 1:7 XLB RTR is Big and Bold
Review by Bryan Bachleitner, with Gregg Voss

Product: There aren't many vehicles that make a bigger statement than XTM Racing's XLB RTR four-wheel-drive, two-speed monster buggy, and not just because it's 1:7 scale. It's got a massive SH .28 engine with tuned pipe that just oozes power, a Hitec Aggressor AM radio, 290cc fuel tank, slick painted body, XTM X-175 steering, X-77 throttle servos and XTM micro failsafe.

Performance: Assembly was typical; Bachleitner mounted the wheels/tires on the XLB, ran the antenna through the plastic sleeve, added decals, oiled the filter and placed AA batteries in the radio and the battery box in the vehicle. Though he used four alkaline batteries for the latter, he recommends using a five-cell rechargeable pack, which the XLB accepts.

Bachleitner had a bit of trouble breaking in the engine, partly because it was chilly outside. But he overcame those issues thanks in part to the help provided by his local HobbyTown USA. "The guy I talked to was great," he says. "He was repairing cars when I walked in there. I went in to get my accessories to get started and he really pointed me in certain directions and told me what I needed and didn't need."

Essentially, the engine would turn over, but wouldn't run without the glow igniter. Bachleitner switched to an O.S. No. 8 plug and used a hair dryer to warm up the engine. Once he took those measures, the engine fired right up.

He consistently managed 30 mph, but says he could easily get up to 50 in warm weather. But speed isn't the only thing that was impressive - so was the durability. Bachleitner just moved into a home in a new subdivision where there are many vacant lots and piles of dirt. The ground was hard due to the cold temperatures, and very unforgiving, which was a great test for the 4-wheel drive and suspension. It passed in with flying colors.

"It took off and hit the curb when I was testing it in the street and I think the right front wheel, part of the suspension came apart, but it was easy to put back together," he says. "I just popped things back together. A lot of the structural pieces are metal."

Oh, there was another reason Bachleitner liked the XLB. "It was pretty loud," he says with a laugh. "It sounds like a gas weed trimmer, something along those lines."

Marketing: The box is typical Global: big, colorful and attractive. Its most prominent feature is a nearly life-size photo of the XLB on the front, along with a couple of shots of it in action and pictures of the Aggressor radio, SH .28 engine and the XTM servos and failsafe. The smaller side panels feature side views of the vehicle, while the longer side panels have common shots of it with call-outs for the various accoutrements.

Bachleitner says the XLB will be too much for a rank newcomer, but a customer who has some experience in electric cars and is looking to jump into off-road nitro would be a great candidate, as would someone who's delved into smaller-scale nitro. Of course, experts who can adeptly handle the speed and power will love this buggy.
Surface R/C-based shops would be best equipped to handle the XLB, because they most likely will have adequate parts support and a solid service department, with a tech who can diagnose problems and fix them ASAP.

Get the XLB out of the box and show it next to other cars, Bachleitner adds, in order to illustrate the difference between 1:7, 1:8, 1:10 and even 1:12 scales.

"It's bigger than a 1:8 buggy, and it's got a .28 in it, and that's a great selling point for us, because everyone around here wants bigger and better," says John Miller of AMS R/C Hobbies.

Product: XLB RTR
Maker: XTM Racing
Scale: 1:7
Stock number: 145617
Street price: $499.99
Availability: Global Hobby Distributors

  • Bigger scale = bigger fun
  • SH .28 creates plenty of roar
  • Durable under tough conditions
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    Sportwerks Mayhem
    RTR = Ready to Rock When it Comes to Sportwerks' Mayhem
    Reviewed by Tim Pennington, with Gregg Voss

    Product: Sportwerks' 1:8 Mayhem ready to run 4-wheel drive buggy comes with a massive .26 engine with handheld electric starter that will get things roaring in no time. It also includes a JR XR3I computer radio and plenty of hard-anodized components, like the chassis, threaded shocks with 3.5mm shock shafts and pivot-ball suspension.

    Performance: Though the shaft-driven Mayhem is as close to RTR as we've seen, Pennington still had a number of tasks to complete before running it. He had to add the blue in-line fuel filter, along with four AA alkalines for the vehicle and eight more for the transmitter. Also necessary was a six-cell/7.2-volt battery pack and charger for the electric engine starter.

    It was Pennington's first experience with an electric starter, and he was instantly converted. He simply slipped it into a port in the backplate and pushed a button. "It's a lot easier than yanking on the pull cord," he says.

    Pennington, who won a nitro stock championship and advanced to the world finals in 2003 (finishing in the top 5), spent the first test day with the vehicle breaking in the engine before taking it to a local park the next day to drive on the pavement and the packed dirt surface of a baseball diamond.

    So how fast was it? "Easily 30 to 35 [mph]," he says, adding he used O'Donnell 20% nitro content fuel. "If you wanted to lean it out, you could probably push it a little more, but then you're taking a chance on ruining your engine. With a different clutch bell, you could get it to run faster, but it's plenty fast the way it is." Speed is counteracted by the two disc brakes.

    It's tempting to forget that the Mayhem is also durable - Pennington didn't break one part during his battery of tests. The park was full of jump opportunities, and Pennington took advantage of all of them, but says he wouldn't use the car on heavier terrain. "It's for a track," he says. "These are designed to be racing buggies, it fits kind of low to the ground. It's for a prepared dirt track. It's not a climber or rough terrain vehicle at all."

    Pennington did mention the Mayhem was a bit sluggish on takeoff, but that may have been due to a variety of reasons. "I think the clutch shoes may be a little soft," he says. "It might be because the low-end needle was a little rich, but it had great top speed and great middle speed."

    Marketing: A nice stout blue box will draw attention to the Mayhem on a retailer's shelf, and the bold black-and-white lettering almost dares a customer to give it a spin. A photo of the vehicle without the body with feature call-outs graces one long side panel, flanked by an action shot, while individual photos of the engine, radio, fuel tank, electric starter, long travel suspension, hard-anodized threaded shocks and ultra-lightweight sealed differentials takes up the other.

    The hobby store most qualified for the Mayhem is one with "a pretty heavy R/C base, definitely," Pennington says, "preferably [one with] a track on-site. I don't think your basic consumer would have fun with this in the street or backyard. The car wants to be raced, that's what it's designed for." Though the Mayhem is pretty complete, such a store would stock most replacement and aftermarket parts. Customers may ask about swapping out that .26 - Pennington says a .21 would fit and could possibly make it faster.

    Consumer brochures are available from Horizon.

    Product: Mayhem RTR 4WD buggy
    Maker: Sportwerks
    Scale: 1:9
    Stock number: SWK 1200
    Street price: $549.99
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

  • .26 engine gives plenty of power
  • Handheld electric starter
  • Can hit 30 mph right out of the box
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    Combat Wings XE2
    Combat Wings' XE2 a Wild, 50-mph Ride
    Review by Tom Conte, with Gregg Voss

    Product: Combat Wings' XE2 comes in two configurations - a basic kit, with CNC-cut wing cores with pre-cut battery slot, carbon-fiber spar, die-cut elevons and wing tips, motor mount, Speed 400 motor, prop and hardware; and a complete kit (the subject of this review), which adds a 20-amp speed control and eight-cell 4/5A 1,500 mAh battery pack. The XE2 is constructed of EPP foam, and has a 48-inch wingspan and XE2 custom airfoil.

    Performance: Though the XE2 assembled seamlessly, it required some thought. Conte covered it with Hangar 9 UltraCote, but added strapping tape before doing so to provide some stiffness. The prop is in the rear, but it's wired so a regular prop can be flipped around and used. He also had some minor problems with the included ESC, but Combat Wings replaced it in no time.

    Conte tested the XE2 in a 300 x 600-foot park in a residential area, which he recommends only experienced pilots try - because the XE2 is fast, hitting more than 50 mph.

    "It's very aerobatic," he adds. "Out West where they have slope soaring, you get a bunch of guys together and they go after one another with this stuff. Here, we have a big golf dome, [and] you may have a dozen of these guys up there and half of these guys are trying to knock each other out of the sky."

    Conte's overall assessment? "This is for an intermediate pilot who wants to get into a fast flying wing with a couple of buddies who want to chase each other around," he said.

    Marketing: Combat Wings sells the XE2 directly to shops and doesn't go through mainstream distribution channels.
    Combat Wings offers lots of marketing materials, including free VHS or DVD product demo videos, banners and T-shirts and hats.

    Product: XE2
    Maker: Combat Wings
    Stock number: K102
    Street price: $129
    Also available: Basic kit (No. K101, $75 street price)

  • 50 mph is easily attainable
  • Tough EPP foam reduces damage
  • Accepts many aftermarket upgrades
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    Artin Ford Ranger
    Artin's Ford Ranger XLT R/C truck really cruises
    Review by Bill and Jim Haught

    Product: This ready-to-run electric R/C truck is aimed at young (ages 6-12) drivers, and rightfully so. It's packed with kid-pleasing operating features such as brakelights, headlights, taillights, engine sound effects, turn signals and opening doors, tailgate and hood. The motor has standard and "turbo" forward speeds and one speed in reverse (accompanied by a "beeper" to remind everyone you're backing up). Batteries for the transmitter (9V transistor-type) and receiver (9.6V Ni-Cd) are included, as is a charger for the receiver pack.

    Performance: The Ranger is big (28 inches long) and relatively heavy, so the power-to-weight ratio is lower than that of other R/C trucks and cars, but that also makes the Ford easier to handle for beginning drivers. Just be sure to allow plenty of room at first, because this truck generates plenty of momentum and takes some time to start, stop and turn. Bill (age 11) and I were able to test the truck pretty thoroughly in our driveway, though we couldn't make full use of the "turbo" throttle setting; we'll need more space to see what the top end will be.

    Bill is used to off-road type R/C cars, so he had to adjust to the slower speed of this "cruiser" and its bigger turning radius. After making these adjustments, though, he had a good time putting the XLT through its paces, and he was anxious for more stick time with it.

    Marketing: The price point makes it affordable as an entry-level vehicle that works well for some father-child "together time." It doesn't have the power or performance of an off-road vehicle, but it's not a slowpoke either. The suggested age range may be a bit optimistic; however, although older kids may not stay with this truck for long, younger children can find plenty of enjoyment as they learn to drive the Ranger.

    Product: Ford Ranger XLT R/C truck
    Maker: Artin (NA) Corp
    Stock number:718001R
    Street price: $59.99

  • Sounds, lights attract young drivers
  • Definitely an on-road cruiser
  • Heavier vs. "performance" R/C vehicles
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    Bachmann Shay
    Bachmann 38-Ton Shay a large-scale joy to watch
    Review by Hal Miller

    Product: Michigan lumberman and inventor Ephraim Shay built the original locomotive which bears his name in 1880. It was designed to apply tractive power to all wheels, making it capable of handling very heavy loads. The resulting locomotive wasn't fast, but it could conquer stiff grades and sharp curves commonly found on logging railroads.

    The original series of Bachmann Shays was released in 1997, and many G scalers credit this series for establishing the popularity of large-scale trains. The 1997 Bachmann Shays set new levels of quality for the company and that continues on with this new release.

    Bachmann is now offering a new 38-ton Shay in four roadnames, plus two unpainted versions. You can choose between coal-burning and oil-burning prototypes. All engines have the great detail and excellent running characteristics of the original release, and feature all-wheel drive, operating smoke unit, highly detailed cab interior, die-cast I-beam frame with threaded truss rod supports, directional headlight and backup light and DCC-ready circuit board.

    Performance: No assembly is required, but it's imperative the locomotive receive thorough lubrication before operation. Bachmann provides a detailed booklet with many instruction pages on engine lubrication. If that's not enough, a DVD is provided to show you how to do it. Lubricants are sold separately.

    After the moving parts have been lubricated, your Shay is ready to roll. Bachmann recommends a short break-in period where the engine is run with a light load at slow to medium speeds. I put the engine through an obstacle course of serpentine, tight-radius track, and the engine was a joy to watch. The interaction of horizontal cylinders, valve gear, crankshaft and universal joints all provide a fascinating show.

    Marketing: The best way to sell people on the Shay is to display it out of the box, and let the customer judge the quality of it for himself. I've seen real Shays operate, and I agree that Bachmann did a great job in recreating this locomotive.

    Product: 38-ton Shay locomotive 1:20.3 scale
    Maker: Bachmann Trains
    Stock Number: 82196 (Oregon Lumber Co. pictured)
    MSRP: $799.95
    Also available: West Side Lumber Co./oil bunker (82194); W.M. Ritter/coal load (82195); Ely-Thomas Lumber Co. #6/coal load (82197); unlettered black with red trim (82198); unlettered black (82198)

  • Showy, fun to watch engine
  • Look can be customized
  • Great reproduction of the real thing
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    Life-Like USRA 2-8-8-2
    HO USRA 2-8-8-2 runs well, sounds great
    Review by Jeff Wilson

    Product: Although Life-Like has previously offered the USRA 2-8-8-2 in its Proto 2000 line, this QSI sound-equipped model represents a significant upgrade from earlier releases. The model looks great and features lots of new tooling. The tender is new, based on the prototype's original 16-ton (coal), 12,000-gallon (water) version. The Detroit Grand Rapids & Western cab is also new, featuring that road's distinctive arched windows, and the Northern Pacific cab is also new. The D&RGW and NP versions also feature new Walschaert valve gear - others used the Baker valve gear. The boiler, piping and appliances are also new or extensively reworked.

    The model is based on the United States Railroad Administration 2-8-8-2, which was designed during World War I. The model includes a nicely written booklet giving a detailed history of the real locomotives.

    Performance: This is a very smooth-running steam locomotive. It starts at a creeping speed and accelerates easily through its speed range - good features, since the real locomotive was a heavy-duty, low-speed pulling machine.

    Of course, what really makes this locomotive stand out is its factory-installed QSI Quantum sound system. Sounds include chuff (for each engine - an impressive effect as they go in and out of sync), air pumps, steam blow-down, bell, and whistle. Effects are available for operators running either standard DC or with Digital Command Control, but users have more control with DCC.

    Marketing: Articulated locomotives look so cool with lots of moving parts. And this model is made doubly so with its excellent sound system. If you can demo the model - letting customers literally play with the bells and whistles - it will certainly help inspire sales.

    Product: USRA 2-8-8-2 steam locomotive
    Maker: Life-Like Proto 2000 Heritage
    Scale: HO
    Stock number: 31222
    MSRP: $525 ($425 without DCC or sound)
    Also available: Clinchfield, Norfolk & Western, Northern Pacific, Virginian and undecorated

  • Detailed sound instructions
  • History of the real thing included
  • Smooth running and fun to watch
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    Scalextric Starsky & Hutch set
    Scalextric's Starsky & Hutch One HOT Slot Set
    Review by Susan Vanselow

    Product: Retro is in these days, with popular trends, sitcoms and movies from a few decades ago being remade.

    One look at the famous '76 Ford Gran Torino and you know that the guys at Scalextric did their TV watching - err, research. The car has the classic bright red with white and black-edged detail stretching over the hood and sides. Small touches, like the bumpers, wheels and even the red light atop the car, make the vehicle stand out as top-notch. While the car seems slightly big for the track, it still squeaks by into 1:32 scale.

    Inside the car you'll find passengers that bear a very close resemblance to the TV detectives. Their mission is to catch the criminal driving the Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvette is shiny black with a fireball design on the sides. Inside is a tough-looking crook.

    Performance: The track snaps together easily and definitely holds up during the course of racing.

    I had the track set up within 30-40 minutes and the races began immediately. The cars both accelerated nicely and hugged the curves even when I ramped up their speed. While the Torino looks slightly large for the track, its size did not hinder its performance. In fact, the Torino flipped less than the Corvette, likely due to the extra weight.

    Both cars took a few tumbles with ease. A few crashes into the races neither car looked any worse for the wear. At one point the Torino lost its sideview mirror, but that popped back into place easily.
    The lap counter and race timer worked great. It provided a different tone for the cars as they raced past. This upped the realistic factor while avoiding confusion.

    Marketing: With recent popularity of all things 70s and 80s, you won't have a difficult time marketing the Starsky & Hutch set. If your customers weren't able to see the television show, chances are they've seen the movie. If they're a hard sell, take the Torino out of the box and show them the great detail, while telling them about it's excellent handling.

    Product: Press Tower Extension Set
    Maker: Carrera
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock number: 21103
    MSRP: $21.95

  • Quick and easy to put together
  • All ages can put it together
  • Gives a layout feel to the slot track
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    Carrera Press Tower
    Go from Set to Layout with Carrera's Press Tower
    Review by Susan Vanselow

    Product: The thing I love about Carrera sets is you can assemble a great looking accessory, in this case, the Press Tower Extension Set, in just minutes and you don't have to be mechanically inclined. How cool is that?

    The 1:32 Press Tower Extension Set can be used in conjunction with the Press Tower Set but it also looks great by itself when placed by the slot car track. This way the miniature "reporters" can get a close look at the slot-car action.

    Performance: I think Carrera should be commended for their innovative approach to directions: illustrations are used, so customers won't get bogged down in confusing "Insert tab A into slot B" text. The pictorial directions were clear and concise, and I had the tower assembled in less than 15 minutes.

    A variety of cardboard figures are included so customers can fill their tower with reporters and spectators. Although just cardboard, the figures' detail is exceptional. There is a single male figure, a couple, a group of three people and a bar scene with bartender and patron. All look extremely realistic.

    Three clear "door" stickers were included. (The box shows blue tinted doors, but the doors are indeed transparent.) These look sharp, but are slightly tricky to attach, as the plastic is very thin and the glue is very tacky. With a steady hand, however, they can be expertly applied.
    I was pleased that the kit offered options. Two styles of back windows are provided, so users can have conventional flat panel window or an edgier sloped window. Either one looks great.

    Marketing: The Press Tower has two things going for it: looks and simplicity. Customers with busy schedules will appreciate the fact that assembly can be done in minutes. This is a great kit for younger slot fans, too. They may need a bit of assistance with the decals, but, other than that, it's something well within their ability. There are remarkably few parts and each piece is of a good size.

    The box has an excellent picture of the finished product, so don't just stack it on its side. Display one so the front image is showing. Tell the customer how easy it is to put together, and you just might have a sale on your hands!

    Product: Press Tower Extension Set
    Maker: Carrera
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock number: 21103
    MSRP: $21.95

  • Quick and easy to put together
  • All ages can put it together
  • Gives a layout feel to the slot track
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    Revell-Monogram March 93G
    Revell-Monogram's March 93G Blue Thunder No. 56: Tough, good looking and hard charging
    Review by Susan Vanselow

    Product: The British-developed March series of racecars were both fierce and feared competitors on the road-racing circuits. The No. 56 March 83G of the Blue Thunder race team was one of the best known, having carried drivers Randy Lanier and Bill Whittington to multiple victories. Revell-Monogram has done an excellent job recreating this famed racecar in 1:32 form for slot racing.

    Performance: The Blue Thunder is certainly a sight to behold. The paint job is exceptional, with a stunning blend of black, two shades of blue and sharp white. The insignias, including Camel, Apache Power Boats and Goodyear, are all crisp and expertly applied. You'll find nary a smudge on this vehicle.

    A helmeted and buckled-in driver is seated inside. He, as well as the rest of the interior, looks great. The car's spoiler, tires and nose all add finishing touches.

    On the track, the car's performance matches its looks. It has great take-off power and accelerated nicely as I drove it around the track. Curves were no problem; it stuck to them as smoothly as the straights.

    Only at full speed did the car take a tumble on the curves, but the Blue Thunder is built tough. It took a several more tumbles with ease and when I set it back up on the track it still had all its parts and there were no scratches or dents. The only possible concern would be the side mirrors, but those seem securely adhered to the body.

    Marketing: The car's packaging allows customers a great view of the Blue Thunder. Be sure to tell them that its performance is equally impressive as its looks. If you have a slot track set up, stage a race with another car or two on a weekend. This is sure to catch the attention of wandering customers. And if they like what they see, they'll be sure to buy!

    Product: 1:32 March 93G Blue Thunder #56
    Manufacturer: Revell-Monogram
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock Number: 4870
    MSRP: $45.00

  • Flawless molding and painting
  • Excellent handling
  • Very durable
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    SCX Digital Straight Border with Barrier
    Tough SCX Straight Border with Barrier stands up to crashes
    Review by Susan Vanselow

    Product: SCX upped the slot car game with the advent of their digital system. Now they're making something great even better with the Straight Border with Barrier. The barriers come four to a package; each barrier is approximately 7 inches long and 2 inches wide, so, depending on the size of your track, they will add considerable attention.

    The "wall" is a muted gray, while the base is green with a checked blue and white border. I liked the fact that it was realistically colored yet didn't detract from the car-racing action.

    Performance: The Straight Borders are tough. The plastic is thick and the construction is secure. Through a couple staged crashes the wall held up quite well. It didn't buckle, and, unlike other more flimsy borders, it didn't come apart or pop off of the track.

    Marketing: The borders come with clear packaging, so grab one as a visual aid when you're telling customers about the product. The customers will be able to see just how well-made the borders are. Be sure to tell them that instead of being two or three pieces, as some borders are, each border is a single piece that is easy to add to the track. When customers are buying a slot car set, ask if they'd like to add more realism and fun to the set. Even if they don't buy then, you've planted the seed to potential future sales.

    Product: Digital System Straight Border with Barrier
    Manufacturer: SCX
    Stock No.: 20100
    MSRP: $14.99

  • Very realistic appearance
  • Extremely durable
  • Solid construction
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    Fun Time Glow True
    Glow True Both Ignites and Tests Glow Plugs
    Review by Tim Pennington, with Gregg Voss

    Product: The GlowTrue by Fun Time Technologies is a new and improved version of the Smart Start, made when the company was called SK Visions. The product has a case that measures roughly 2-1/2 x 1 x 5 inches and is attached to a 24-inch cord with a glow igniter at the end.

    Performance: Why is this product better than conventional sub-C glow igniters? First, it runs on four AA alkaline cells, which provide up to 80 minutes of use - more than four times the length of sub-C-powered products. It also features a battery tester, so you know whether those four AA batteries are good or not. And it's ridiculously simple to use. Before connecting the igniter to a glow plug, simply flip the on-off switch. A red battery check LED will come on to let you know you're good to go.

    After testing the unit's batteries, you simply turn it off, connect the igniter to a glow plug, flip the on-off switch again and the continuity check LED will come on, indicating there is continuity between the glow plug and igniter. The user can then start the engine.

    Marketing: Perhaps best of all, the Glow True can be used with virtually any nitro R/C engine, from cars to planes to boats. The case is also nitro-resistant with tasteful graphics.

    "With this, there is the cord, the igniter and the box," Pennington said. "But you have the comfort of knowing if the battery is good and the glow plug is good."

    For more info call: 260-241-2543.

    Product: GlowTrue
    Maker: Fun Time Technologies
    Stock number: 854632000033
    MSRP: $70

  • Sharp looking
  • Ready to run
  • Great performance
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    Tamiya Gravel Hound
    Gravel Hound is a fun racer that can also tame rough territory
    Review by Jeff Wilson

    Product: If your customers are looking for an R/C car that's truly ready to run, fun to play with, easy to operate and durable, point them toward the Tamiya Gravel Hound. This 1:10 off-road buggy, new to Tamiya's QD (Quick Drive) line, lives up to its name.

    All that's needed to get racing are batteries: a 9-volt for the transmitter and a 9.6-volt NiCd battery for the car. Once the batteries were in place I turned the controller and car on and it was ready to run.

    The controller is standard and basic: a pistol-grip speed control (pull to accelerate, push to brake or reverse), and steering control and trim dials for speed and steering. Six frequency crystals are available for multi-car racing.

    Performance: The car was a pleasure to run. It has quick pickup, and it's very maneuverable. After some playing, I was able to do sliding brake-and-turns. My 9-year old son managed to pry the controller away from me and easily mastered it in a few minutes.

    The sprung shocks and suspension, with a swing-axle front and a rolling rigid axle rear, help the Gravel Hound cover some rough ground - this is truly an off-road racer. The car has two gears, low for power and high for speed, with a control switch on the rear of the car. We also tried a few jumps, and, although we flipped the car a few times, it kept on rolling.

    I was impressed with the operating time. I used a Ni-MH battery pack from Nitro Power, and we ran the car hard for 40 minutes before the speed began dropping noticeably.

    Marketing: This is truly a ready-to-run car, making it a perfect first "real" R/C car for your customers. If you can have one out of the box for customers to play with, it can only help sales. Be sure to have battery packs and chargers available.

    Product: Gravel Hound R/C race car
    Maker: Tamiya
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock number: 46035
    MSRP: $140

  • Sharp looking
  • Ready to run
  • Great performance
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